SAN ANTONIO – A South Side pastor is preaching forgiveness in the wake of an arson fire that damaged the outside of his church late Monday night.
"There's no hate in us, you know? They did what they did, but we believe that it's a cry out for help," said Ruben Cortez, pastor of The Holy One Church.
Cortez returned to the building in the 300 block of East Petaluma on Tuesday morning to survey the damage and air out the smell of smoke from it.
A neighbor called Cortez about the fire around 10 p.m. Monday after noticing the smoke.
Cortez and his wife, Monica, rushed over and found firefighters, police and news crews already at the scene.
"To see how quickly they responded to it, we're very grateful. We're very grateful," he said, referring to the first responders.
Firefighters knocked down the fire before it could spread beyond the front doors.
Arson investigators later determined that someone had piled up trash there and set fire to it.
Although the fire never spread inside, the flames did cause damage to a hand-carved wooden design on the doors, which dates back to the 1960s.
"The arson investigators said it was intentional. There was gas on the door. It was intentional," Cortez said.
Cortez said the fire is an example of evil running rampant during what is the holiest of all weeks for Christians, the week leading up to Easter Sunday.
Cortez pointed to the recent series of arson fires at African American churches in Louisiana and the accidental fire that heavily damaged Notre Dame in Paris.
He called what happened to his church a hate crime, occurring right after what Cortez said was an act of love.
The church Sunday afternoon hosted a community celebration that included dropping candy-filled plastic Easter eggs from a helicopter.
Cortez said more than 2,000 children and adults attended the free event.
In spite of the damage done to the doors of his church, Cortez said they will be open for Easter services.
"We're on the fortunate side that we'll be able to have our services in the sanctuary this Sunday where there are many churches that won't be able to do that," he said.
As of Tuesday morning, investigators had not made any arrests in connection with the fire.